Judge orders halt to Point Wells condo development while county rewrites zoning ordinance

SEATTLE — A judge dealt a setback Wednesday to a plan for high-rise waterfront condos at Point Wells by stopping the proposed project from moving forward under Snohomish County’s existing zoning.

The case over the property on unincorporated county land pitted developer Blue Square Real Estate and Snohomish County on one side, and the neighboring town of Woodway and a residents’ group on the other.

Woodway borders the property to the east and north, while the Save Richmond Beach group represents homeowners in a King County neighborhood to the south.

King County Superior Court Judge Dean S. Lum’s decision handed a victory to the opponents, who filed a lawsuit in September to stop the county from processing the developer’s application.

“We’re happy with the result,” said Woodway Mayor Carla Nichols, one of about 20 people in the Seattle courtroom who cheered Lum’s decision. “I’m glad to see our community is out supporting this.”

Blue Square plans to appeal, said Gary Huff, a Seattle attorney for the developer. Huff also downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying, “I don’t think this is a huge deal.”

For now, the decision means that Blue Square needs to submit a new application for a 3,081-unit project after the county rewrites a controversial zoning ordinance for the property. The county’s deadline to correct the zoning is April 25.

Huff said the new rules might be in place before any decision in an appeal.

All along, the main points of concern for neighbors have been the size of the project and the potential traffic. The development would sit next to upscale neighborhoods of single-family homes. The only way to get there is a dead-end, two-lane road.

Blue Square, which is part of an Israeli holding company, envisions clusters of buildings of up to 17 stories, as well as shops and a public beach. Now the 61-acre parcel is home to a century-old fuel depot and asphalt plant. The County Council during the past two years has changed the industrial zoning of the property to allow the massive, mixed-use project as an urban center.

The courtroom audience included state Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, a former Shoreline mayor who lives in Richmond Beach. Ryu hailed the decision as a victory for environmental regulations. Had the judge ruled the other way, she said, it would have left a big loophole for development projects to move ahead under flawed regulations.

“For the environmental community, I think this is huge,” Ryu said.

Wednesday’s court decision focused on challenges to the County Council’s zoning decisions that unfolded last spring.

Representatives for BSRE Point Wells, a local Blue Square subsidiary, submitted an application for the Point Wells project in March. The county accepted it.

The following month, the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board ruled the county’s zoning for Point Wells is illegal because it failed to follow state growth laws or the county’s own policies. Meanwhile, the county and the developer maintained the project could still move ahead despite the faulty zoning, because the county already accepted Blue Square’s initial application.

In September, Woodway and the Save Richmond Beach group filed their lawsuit.

During the hour-long hearing, attorneys for Snohomish County and the developer argued that it was clear that, under state law, the initial application was protected under the county’s old zoning rules. Furthermore, they argued, opponents of the project would have more chances to appeal during the permit process.

John Moffat, Snohomish County assistant chief civil deputy, said no decision has been made about whether the county will appeal.

“That will be a decision that will be made by the council, and I expect to be talking to them sometime next week about it,” Moffat said.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Save Richmond Beach attorney Zach Hiatt said, “The property’s no longer an urban center.”

Even most of the project’s opponents say they would like to see Blue Square’s waterfront property redeveloped from its current industrial use, but they disagree about the density.

Blue Square continues to discuss with Shoreline a possible compromise over the scope of the development. The King County city’s leaders are concerned about how the project will affect traffic and other municipal services.

Snohomish County has a half-dozen other urban centers along highways or freeways. As proposed, Point Wells can only be reached from the south by two-lane Richmond Beach Drive in Shoreline.

The developer was able to qualify Point Wells under Snohomish County’s urban center rules because of a railroad line running through the property, even though no plans exist to build a rail stop there.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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